Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective

By Ali Hale

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Two terms you might come across when you’re learning English or studying grammar are “predicate nominative” and “predicate adjective”. They’re both types of “predicate complement”.

This might all sound complicated, but the good news is they’re actually quite simple to understand and use.

Before we dig in too deep, though, let’s quickly revise a couple of simple grammatical terms:

Noun: A noun is a thing. It could be a person, an item, a place, or a concept. For instance, all of these are nouns: John, computer,  America, truth, computer, girl, planet.

Adjective: An adjective is a word that modifies or describes a noun. It might tell you about the noun’s size, colour, shape, age, or other properties. For instance, all of these are adjectives: big, green, oval, old, damaged.

If you’re feeling clear about those, keep reading. If you’re still not 100% sure you know what a noun and/or an adjective are, check out these posts for some extra help:

What Does “Predicate” Mean?

In grammar, the word “predicate” refers to the part of a sentence that says something about the subject of the sentence.

For instance, the following sentence can be divided into two parts:

Sarah is tall.

The subject is “Sarah” (which I’ve put in bold).

The predicate is “is tall” (which I’ve put in italics).

Predicates will always include a verb, but they can also include other elements – and we’re going to be looking at the “predicate nominative” and the “predicate adjective” next.

What is a “Predicate Nominative”?

The phrase “predicate nominative” might sound complicated – and you might want to think of it by its other name, “predicate noun”. (It’s also sometimes called a “predicative nominate”.)

A predicate nominative, is a noun or noun phrase that redefines or renames the subject of the sentence. It comes after a linking verb such as “is”.

Here are some examples, with the predicate nominative indicated in bold:

Sarah is a great friend.

I am an aspiring writer.

We became enemies.

Before that, they were musicians.

Note that the predicate nominative is not the whole of the predicate in each sentence: remember, the whole predicate includes the verb.

Using a Compound Predicate Nominative

The predicate nominative can include more than one noun: in these cases, it’s a “compound predicate nominative”.

Here are a couple of examples, again with the predicative nominative indicated in bold:

The new students are John, Beth, and Andrea.

My birthday present might be a laptop or a bike.

What is a “Predicate Adjective”?

A “predicate adjective” – also sometimes called a “predicative adjective” – is an adjective that follows a linking verb and refers back to or modifies the subject.

It’s different from an “attributive adjective”, which is what you use immediately before a noun (e.g. tall girl, red chair, happy child).

Here are some examples of predicate adjectives:

Sarah is kind.

I am happy.

We became scared.

Before that, they were unaware.

Note, again, that the predicate adjective is not the whole of the predicate in the sentence, as the whole predicate also includes the verb.

Compound Predicate Adjectives

You can have more than one predicate adjective in a sentence, forming a compound predicate adjective. For instance:

Sarah is kind, sweet, and generous.

I am happy and grateful.

We became scared and jumpy.

Before that, they were unaware or uncaring.

What is a Linking Verb?

With both the predicate nominative and the predicate adjective, we’ve mentioned the need for a “linking verb”. You might be wondering what exactly this means.

A linking verb is one that connects the subject with the rest of the sentence. It’s sometimes called a “copular verb” and can be contrasted with an “action verb”.

The most common linking verbs are the forms of the verb to be, including: am, is, are, were, will be. But other verbs can be linking verbs too.

Here are some examples, with the linking verbs in bold:

You look beautiful.

John seems very grumpy today.

The race was really long.

I feel exhausted.

Action Verbs Can’t Be Used With a Predicate Nominative or Predicate Adjective

Remember, there will always be a linking verb in any sentence with a predicate nominative or predicate adjective.

If you have an action verb instead, then your sentence doesn’t have a predicate nominative or predicate adjective.

Take a look at this sentence as an example:

Naomi requested more sugar.

The verb “requested” is an action verb – it’s something that Naomi is doing. “More sugar” isn’t a predicate nominative, because it doesn’t define or describe Naomi herself. Instead, “more sugar” is the object of the sentence.

Here’s another example:

John ran fast.

Here, “fast” is an adverb modifying the action verb “ran”. If you wanted to use it as a predicate adjective instead, you’d need to write “John is fast”, using the linking verb “is”.

Further Reading

For more help using or identifying the Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective, check out these resources:

Predicate Complements, Maeve Maddox, Daily Writing Tips

This article introduces both the “predicate complement”, which can be either a predicate nominative or predicate adjective. Maeve runs through some great examples, and explains how you can avoid confusing predicate complements and direct objects.

Subject-Verb Agreement, Jacquelyn Landis, Daily Writing Tips

This post explains that you don’t need to change the verb based on the predicate nominative: the verb form is determined instead by the subject of the sentence. Jacquelyn gives plenty of examples and runs through them in detail to help you understand how to get subject-verb agreement right, even in tricky cases.

Nouns: Predicate Nominative, Grammar Untied (part of The Tongue Untied)

If you want some more examples of the predicate nominative in use, this post offers plenty – along with explanations of how to identify the subject and the predicate nominative in each sentence.

Predicative Adjectives, The Free Dictionary

If you want some more examples of the predicate adjective in use, this article gives you lots – again, along with explanations of how each example works.

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2 Responses to “Predicate Nominative and Predicate Adjective”

  • TheBlueBird11

    So glad English is my first language. This is waaaaaaay too complicated, no matter how much people try to simplify it. It’s too bad this was not drilled into us as schoolchildren. I guess when I was in elementary/high school (~1962-1975), it was no longer considered necessary to teach parsing sentences. At this point it’s too late to learn, and I might say that if I’ve survived 61 years without understanding it, likely I can survive 61 more just as well. But thanks for trying…

  • ZBR

    This is a great and easy way of explaining what predicates are and how they function!

    A couple questions, and they might seem silly, but humor me.
    If you rearrange the word order of “John runs fast” you get a seemingly nonsensical sentence “John fast runs.” Yet, supplement “fast” with a synonym like “quickly” and it works fine(albeit sounding a little archaic).
    “John quickly runs…”
    Why is this? Is it because we are using “fast,” which is typically a verb or adjective, as an adverb without applying the usual adverbial suffix “-ly” to it?
    And if so, what basis is there for distinguishing between an adjective modifying a verb and an adverb? Could an adjective be applied directly without undergoing modification into an adverb?
    “He speaks loud.” “The boat was built poor.”
    Maybe it’s just a quirk with the word “fast,” where “fastly” sounds weird.
    Anyway, thanks for the informative tip!
    🙂

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